Sunday, January 19, 2020

A dry spell comes into the life of every blogger

It's been more than a month since I posted here. I guess I could say that I'm in the midst of a dry spell. That wouldn't be accurate. I've written some blog posts on healthcare and politics that bored me so much I couldn't finish. So, I turned my attention elsewhere. wrote five feature articles for Artscapes Magazine. I started a piece for Studio Wyoming Review on Wyofile. I revamped the last section of my historical novel and almost finished it. I discovered halfway through the last section that the narrative didn't make sense in its present form. Maybe I should have waited until I actually finished because finishing is the goal. But no -- I had to be different. I do have most of a final chapter, my third attempt. I have read about other authors who begin the book and write the final chapter so they know where they're going. Those are the same writers who outline the book before they write. They're called plotters.

Writers like me are called pantsers because we write "by the seat of their pants," making up the story as we go along. I believe I'm in that group due to my early training in daily and weekly newspapers. Sports reporting, especially, makes writers write down what they know because there is 20 minutes to deadline. It's a handy way to learn writing as you always have the score to fall back on. "Cheyenne Central shellacked Cheyenne South Friday night 52-0 to cinch its record at 10-1 and win a trip to the high school boys' football regional playoffs." All the 5Ws are in there. I used fun action verbs -- shellacked and cinch -- that aren't usually seen elsewhere in daily news writing except in election season. That lede gives you a gateway into the rest of the story that you will keep writing until time is up. Often the ending can trail off into noweheresville as you throw in stats or add a lame quote from the winning coach or quarterback. You're finished. On to the next game!

Ledes aren't always easy to come by in feature writing. You're lucky if some attention-grabbing quote or fact can be fished out of your notes. You really have to dig sometimes, depending on the pizazz of the interviewee. In fiction, I usually start with an image. In my novel, I wanted to put my two main characters on a train together. Nothing too exciting about a passenger rail car in 1919 Colorado, although there are train fans out there who might disagree. My characters, however, are so different that they clash in interesting ways that might (you never know) lead to romance somewhere in the middle of the book. It works for me. No telling if it will grab the interest of editors.

I began writing this because writing is something I am invested in. Not so politics and healthcare. I love to read and talk about those topics. Debate them, too, as long as its a two-sided contest. But tackling these topics rally requires some research. The Internet is key to that. I know which sources to turn to for facts and which to turn to for snark. I like both, so sometimes I turn to opinion pieces in newspapers such as the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Miami Herald. Carl Hiaasen of the Herald is the best columnist in the USA. I also look to conservatives mouthpieces such as the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and others. For liberal snark, you can't beat Wonkette. I often wonder where Hunter S. Thompson would have plied his trade on the WWW. The Trump Era was made for him.

In conclusion, let me state that I needed to write and post something that interests me so I can move on to the next things. Finishing the novel. Watching the NFL conference finals. Eating lunch.

See you in the funny papers.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Profiles in courage: The men and women who fought for civil rights

"Did you say that President Trump wrote a book?"

The questions came from a middle-aged African-American staffer in the Martin Luther King, Jr., room at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. I had just turned away from the replica of MLK's library that lines the wall to the gallery. My collegian nephew Morgan, pushing me in a wheelchair, had spotted a book by Nixon on the library shelves. "Nixon wrote a book?" he asked.

I told him that all presidential candidates write books. They're campaign tools, a chance to outline their philosophy and goals should they rise to the highest office in the land. I pointed out a paperback copy of JFK's 1956 "Profiles in Courage." I had devoured that book in the months leading up to President Kennedy's election. I was a voracious reader at 9.

"Trump wrote a book," I replied to the question from the museum staffer."They don't always write them. Some use  ghost writers." It was an attempt to explain the inexplicable.

She seemed bemused by the concept. I was too. Trump's book, "Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again," was published in November of 2015, a year before the election that changed America for the worse. A glowering Trump adorns the cover, reflecting the ugliness that waits inside. He looks like your angry old neighbor, the same kind of person who flocks to Trump's white-power rallies.

"They just threw 200,000 people off the food stamp rolls," the staffer said as Morgan, my sister Mary and I exited.

"Can we be any more cruel?" I replied.

The answer, of course, is yes they can be more cruel. Trumpists demonstrate this every day.

We were in a museum that remembered some of the cruelest chapters in American history. The South's Jim Crow laws, lynchings, murders, sundowner ordinances, miscegenation statutes, segregation.

The exhibits remembered those outrages. And also celebrated the response of outraged Americans involved in the Civil Rights struggle. You know some of the names. Those mostly unknown faces look out from the exhibits. Freedom Riders, college students who came from all over to register black voters, priests, ministers, and rabbis who left their flocks to administer to the dispossessed and disenfranchised in the rural South. There are the murdered and the martyred. Four little girls killed when the KKK bombed a black Birmingham church. Emmett Till, tortured and killed in 1955 by redneck vigilantes for allegedly whistling at a white woman. Medgar Evers, the World War II veteran who challenged segregation at the University of Mississippi and was shot down in 1963 by a member of the White Citizens' Council.

Millions now know the names and faces of these brave people who challenged the  status quo.

The most frightening exhibit recreates the sit-ins at the Greensboro, N.C., Woolworth's. You sit on a lunch counter stool, place earphones over your head, and hands flat on the counter. For the next few minutes, you experience what those black college students went through in the name of equality. Name-calling, threats, slaps upside the head. The lunch counter stool vibrates with the kicks from racists in their jackboots. I was shaken when I stepped down. I've heard the same invective coming from 21st century racists.

On the way to the gift shop, we passed a large mural by Paula Scher that features protest posters from around the world. I really liked it so bought a few items in the shop that celebrates that work of art. Christmas is coming, after all. And I want to always remember this place. I also urge everyone I know to visit it.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Welcome to the Poetry Hotel

Write short, said all the experts. Be concise. 

I first heard this advice as a student reporter for my university paper. Give me 500 words. Give me 750. Later, when I covered high school sports for a big city daily, I sometimes had to rush back to the office and knock out a piece in 15 minutes or file by phone or via the Jurassic fax machines of the 1970s. Keep it short. And for God's sake, get the score right. 

Naturally, I went on to write a novel and a passel of short stories which weren't very short. It was nice to have all those words to work with. A well-crafted short story can still be a challenge. You have to limit the number of characters and set the story in a few scenes. Still, a 5,000-word story gives you some room to breathe.

I've reached 106,000 words in 424 pages on the historical novel I'm writing now. I am not finished with the draft. Not sure what the final count will be before I query publishers. Much revising to do.

My latest published works are much shorter. They're prose poems featured in YU News Poetry Hotel, Paul Fericano prop. Five pieces. The longest is "Flying Nurse," which comes in at 340 words. The shortest is "Welcome to Zan Xlemente, Zalifornia" with 182 words. Each tells a story and might be labelled flash fiction if they were on another site. I don't see how it makes much difference if people read and enjoy them. Maybe not enjoy so much as make you think about worlds not your own. Read them at https://www.yunews.com/mike-shay-poetry-hotel.

A writer uses different techniques with each form. A novel requires expansion while a short-short involves winnowing. If a traditional short story is a slice of life, a short-short is a slice of a slice. Some of mine start life as a short piece and stays that way as I've said what I wanted to say. "Zan Xlemente" is an example. Some, however, start life as longer pieces that I take the scalpel to. "The Future of Surfing in Wyoming" started  as a multi-part story, "The History of Surfing in Wyoming." In it, I imagined the surf scene 1,000 years from now if global warming does its worst. I added rewritten versions of surf songs and turned it into a performance piece I presented at readings in Casper and Sheridan. It wasn't easy to transform a 4,000-word piece into one with a mere 252 words. Check it out on the Poetry Hotel site and see what you think. I'm in Room 66.

Friday, December 06, 2019

It's not always a beautiful day in the neighborhood

Chris, Annie and I saw "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" on Thanksgiving Day. Walking down the corridor to the theatre, I was almost trampled by a rampaging mob of tykes on their way to see "Frozen 2." We have neither tykes nor grandtykes as excuses to see animated films. You could call them movies for children's but I like the term family films. Disney and Pixar know that the under-10 crowd needs parental accompaniment. The filmmakers throw in enough inside adult jokes and jibes to keep us interested. A good thing because these films will be watched dozens of times at home. Our daughter Annie saw "Charlotte's Web" at least a hundred times.

I knew that "Neighborhood" was a feel-good movie because Mr. Rogers was a feel-good guy. So is Tom Hanks. My younger self might not have gone to this movie. If I did, I would crack wise about it on the way home. I could never resist. When visiting from college, I gave my sisters grief for watching "Little House on the Prairie" or "Mr. Rogers." I thought I was funny. I always thought I was funny. In my youth, I teased family members and friends. I outgrew it, thankfully. Being a wise-ass has its uses. But it's not conducive to forming relationships, That takes vulnerability and humility. You know, Mr. Rogers' traits.

That's what hit me as I watched Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers. He was a humble soul, a friendly man who sought out people like Lloyd, the acerbic Esquire journalist assigned to do a short profile on the children's TV star. Lloyd was a broken man, hobbled by his hatred of the father who abandoned his family. He is struggling to be a partner to his wife and father to his baby. When his father reappears, he is so pissed that he punches Dad at his sister's wedding. When his father is hospitalized with a heart attack, he refuses to see him, opting instead to go to work. Mr. Rogers helps him to heal by being himself and asking the right questions. I  won't say what happens next as I don't want to spoil it.

I left the theatre with a warm feeling. Chris liked the film but Annie did not. She grew up with Mr. Rogers and liked him. But the movie didn't have enough oomph for her. She is a Millennial who avoids network TV and spends her Roku-fueled spare time with life looking for horror films, oddball YouTube videos, and funky indie films. She is kind and creative but impatient. We enjoy a lively banter and has picked up wiseassery from me. My son Kevin has a quick wit, too. He has always had a sensitive soul and I hope that remains. We don't see him much as he lives 900 miles away. I want my kids to be good people. Bad people seem to be on the ascendancy, at least in the public sphere.

I would love to be Christ-like in my behavior toward others. My writing style sometimes allows that, as does my daily behavior. I crave Mr. Rogers' understanding nature. I've long admired Elwood P. Doud, the rabbit-conjuring soul in "Harvey." I would wander the town introducing my pooka Harvey to strangers. I would hand them my card and ask them if I could buy them a drink. I would hope that people tolerated my quirky nature and and invisible companion. Unfortunately, those who wander from acceptable social behavior tend to be discounted even vilified. Americans, bless their hearts, like to believe they tolerate the eccentric among us.

I know a man who's a fixture in our downtown. He has a mental illness and works full time. He tells jokes when he shows up at events. He writes poetry as he hangs out at a local coffee house. On one chilly fall evening. he spotted me pushing my walker along a downtown sidewalk. I saw him scribbling on a sheet of paper as he made his way to me across the street. Before I could even greet him, he handed me the paper. On it were "get well soon" wishes. It was nice and I thanked him. I wish I would have told him it was the best card I had ever received. It was the best because it was the nicest gesture. I could see Mr. Rogers doing this. I could also imagine good wishes from Mr. Doud. He, of course, would have invited me into the Paramount Ballroom for a warm drink on a cold night.
And I would have accepted.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Are those radishes growing out of your ears?

Last weekend, I had radish seeds in my ears.

It had nothing to do with hygiene or gardening. Instead, it's an extension of my acupuncture treatments.

My acupuncturist Savannah conducted a standard treatment Friday and then asked if I wanted to extend it over the weekend. No needles, she promised, but plenty of radish seeds. They are attached to tiny sticky pads. She put four of them on each ear. She said they have the same effect as the needles. I can gently massage them a few times each day to duplicate acupuncture. Thus far, I can't tell if they make a difference. Acupuncture itself is working, though, which is a pleasant surprise. 

I used to group all alternative medical treatments into the New Age Netherworld of crystals, aromatherapy, chanting. I always put my health care into the hands of the medical establishment. Its members had done a pretty good getting me to 68. I think of antibiotics, which may have saved my life multiple times in childhood. Those inoculations against smallpox, measles and polio. All the miracle drugs of the post-war period that kept a generation alive into obnoxious old age. Our children and grandchildren, too, whom we rely on to explain tech to us.

Minds can change.

I fell in the spring of 2018. A stupid fall, but aren't they all? Four days later, I had terrible back pain. A few days later, I experienced some trouble walking. First I needed a cane and soon after, I was using a walker. A month later, I underwent spinal surgery.

My problems were just beginning. Recovering from spinal surgery takes a long time. Sixteen months, so far. I recovered the feeling in my hands and right leg within a few months. The left leg was a problem. My balance was off and the nerves in my ankle and foot didn't respond to two rounds of physical therapy. I had hoped I could retire my walker by the beginning of this summer but that didn't happen. The bottom of my feet were numb and my toes, traumatized, so said my podiatrist. My bowels and bladder misbehaved and I developed a prostate infection. A urologist conducted some tests and prescribed some antibiotics and prostate pills. I found a new neurologist. She conducted some tests and diagnosed me with neuropathy. She did some blood tests and said she had no idea why I had neuropathy but it could be an outcome to my spinal surgery. She suggested I return to physical therapy, work out in the YMCA pool, and wear compression socks. She suggested that I change my diet and take food supplements with nerve-energizing properties.

I did all those things and still have trouble getting around. I decided to try something new. I contacted acupuncturists in Cheyenne and none of them accepted my private insurance. And forget about Medicare -- acupuncture not covered. I found a clinic in Fort Collins that does take CIGNA. I am five treatments in, and I'm beginning to make progress.

Which brings me back to the radish seeds. I haven't noticed much difference in my gait. But it's no worse. Next week, if the weather allows. I return to Fort Collins for more acupuncture and possibly an earseeds' recharge.

After 16 months letting traditional medicine have its way with me, I am open to all new venues. A writer friend in Louisiana said he was attended to by a witch doctor during a recent injury. He said her treatments helped. He also gave me her email. It's been tempting to contact her. I know up front that witch doctoring is not covered by Medicare. CIGNA, or other traditional health plans.

But who knows?

My eyes (and ears) have been opened to alternatives.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

"OK Boomer!" is a good retort. A better one might be "Go, Boomer, Go!"

OK Boomer!

It's a thing now, a quick retort by members of a younger generation when a Baby Boomer rambles on about the good ol' days and why youngsters are causing the USA to go to hell in a handbasket.

First question from a Millennial: What's a handbasket?

Baby Boomer: A basket carried by hand.

Millennial: We don't believe in hell.

Boomer: The hell you say.

We're always talking around one another. That may be the case until every last Boomer goes to his/her/its heavenly reward.

Millennial: We don't believe in heaven.

OK Millennial, what I'm actually pointing out is that the Baby Boomer Death Clock at Incendar shows that a Boomer dies every 18.2 seconds and that already today (as of 11:47 a.m. MST), 4,746 Boomers have died. As of right now, 64,914,430 Boomer are "still alive" and 20,443,571 are "dead." Percentage-wise, this is 23.9503896% of available Boomers. In the world of demographics, this is known as "cohort replacement."

A better Millennial chant might be: Go, Boomer, Go!

Meanwhile, we waste precious time in clashes with each other instead of concentrating on the real threat which, of course, is Donald Trump and Trumpism. We can find common ground here. I am a Boomer Liberal and many Millennials are liberal, much more liberal than their parents and grandparents. This is especially true if you are an urban dweller. Wyoming is much more rural than urban which partly explains Trump's continuing popularity. I live in the state's largest city, Cheyenne. But even here, I am an anomaly. Cheyenne is located on the cusp of blue-state Colorado, but it is almost as conservative as the rest of the state. County Democrats were devastated in the 2016 legislative races. MAGA hats are not everywhere but there are enough of them to make a Liberal pause before launching an anti-Trump tirade in public. Being a blowhard is a Trump thing. But liberals can be obnoxious, too. When I was part of a Democrat/Republican panel interviewed on radio the night of Obama's 2008 win, the radio host said the worst thing about Obama's election was having to listen to remarks from his liberal friends for the next four years. Eight years, as it turned out.

And then came Trump. His diehard fans haven't STFU since.

OK Millennials, listen up. I won't give advice to, or cast aspersions on, your generation if you do just one thing: get out and vote in 2020. If Millennials registered and voted for the Democrat a year from now, Trump would be history. I realize that I am an elder giving advice, and that it's appropriate to roll your eyes and then say "OK Boomer." I can handle that. What I can't handle is another four years of Trump.

Can you?

Monday, October 28, 2019

Democrats hold Chili Cook-off Fundraiser Nov. 14 in Cheyenne

When I tell people that I make a killer no-sodium-added red chili, they are dubious. To compare, your average canned chili on grocery stores shelves packs a thousand kilotons of sodium, maybe more. And I've eaten my share, no doubt contributing to my 2013 widow-maker heart attack. Most recipes don't skip on the salt. So I took it as a challenge to make good-tasting chili sans salt. That means salt such as that found in nature and that found in cans of beans, chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, etc. If I was a more dedicated cook, I would use fresh ingredients. Soak the beans overnight (without salt). Use my own tomatoes, onions and peppers. Butcher my own meat.

But I'm not. When you think about it, it's easier today to be a lazy cook that ever before. My local Albertson's stocks salt-free cans of nearly everything. Low-sodium foods, too, such as Amy's Kitchen soups and some Progresso offerings that for some unknown reason are always on the bottom shelf. The Salt Lobby -- handmaiden to the Illuminati!

I use fresh herbs and a variety of spices to exorcise the blandness of the saltless. People like it. So I'm making a batch of it for the Nov. 14 events explained below. At past events, cooks have brought in vegetarian, vegan, beef, chicken, turkey, and varieties of green chili. While I have not followed this path, a few cooks add fire to their recipes causing watery eyes and much munching of chips, tortillas and cornbread. Not for the weak-hearted! And neither is being a Democrat in the reddest state in the union.

Read on...

Democrats hold Nov. 14 Chili Cook-off fundraiser at IBEW Hall
The Laramie County Democratic Grassroots Coalition invites you to a Chili Cook-off Fundraiser on Thursday, Nov. 14, 6-8 p.m. at the IBEW Local 415 Hall, 810 Fremont Ave., Cheyenne. Tickets are $15.
Attendees may enter their homemade food items in three categories: chili, salsa, and dessert. You can enter one, two or all three categories. Vote tickets will be available at the door for $1 or six for $5. Framed certificates will be awarded to the winners. People can also bring other side dishes.
The LCDGC planning committee will provide all the condiments for the chili, homemade cornbread, and beverages including iced tea, lemonade and coffee.
LCDGC will raffle a bottle of Maker’s Mark Whiskey. Tickets will be $5, 5 for $20. Must be 21 to win. There also will be a 50/50 raffle.
The night’s speakers include Ben Rowland, president of the Laramie County Democrats, and Rep. Sara Burlingame. There will be time for any Democrat who has announced a 2020 campaign.
All proceeds from the night’s event go to Democratic Party candidates running in the 2020 election.
For more information, contact Michael Shay, 307-241-2903, or go to laramiecountydemocrats.org